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True transparency... CTU posts complete agenda for Board of Education meeting

While the administration of Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman continues to talk about "transparency" while covering up or drastically changing the most important activities of the Chicago Board of Education, the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union took a big step towards public transparency on September 20, 2010, when the union — not the Board — published the complete 185-page Agenda for the September 22, 2010, Board meeting at its website. The full agenda, which includes every public Board Report that will be before the seven members of the Board during its regular monthly meeting of September 22, was hitherto only available to citizens who went to the Board offices on the sixth floor at 125 S. Clark St. and knew to ask for it. The entire printed agenda, which used to be mailed to people across Chicago prior to the meetings, had become a virtual secret since the takeover of the schools by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in July 1995.

The PDFs of the Board agenda (it's in two parts because of the size) can be found at the CTU website (www.ctunet.com) by going down to the third position. The complete Board Agenda is in two PDF files, each of which takes about two minutes to download (depending upon your browser). The first of them can be found at

http://ctunet.com/assets/BoardReport9-22-2010.pdf

For the first time, members of the public can peruse the lengthy agenda, going over each "Board Report" (a motion that when passed by the Board becomes something the Board spends money on or does) to see what the Board is really going to do at the meeting. Although the "agenda" of Board meetings has been made "public" according to the Open Meetings Act 48 hours prior to the meeting, the Board Secretary, Estela Beltran, has only made public a summary agenda (this month, four pages long). The summary agenda doesn't tell anyone how much money is being spend on what, but simply gives the name of each Board report. When asked why the Board refuses to published the entire agenda (this month, 185 pages long) on its website, CPS has simply said that it couldn't be done.

The publication of the agenda in full by the Chicago Teachers Union shows how easily the publication could be done if CPS were truly interested in transparency, rather than lies, cover ups, obfuscations, or deceptions.

The agenda that is now on line contains many expensive items. Here are a few:

-- The biggest item on the agenda is to increase the Board’s debt. According to Board Report RS1, the Board will borrow another $100 million for its “Series 2010” bonds, increasing the 2010 borrowing from $700 million to $800 million.

--There are three Board reports expanding existing charter schools (EX2, EX3, and EX4). The charter schools in question are Perspectives, Noble Network, and Youth Connections.

-- The agenda includes $4.3 million dollars for “After School Matters”, (Board Report PR14), $14 million to pay not-for-profit people to run “out of school time programs” (Board Report PR16), and $327,000 to Mesirow Insurance Services (owned by Sun-Times owner James Tyree) for liability insurance.

-- Testing costs will increase by another million dollars (Board Report PR20) if the Board passes a motion to pay $1 million for “training public service announcements, video production, Scantron instructional videos and marketing…”

-- The latest special education gimmick, “Response to Intervention” is supposed to get another $30 million for “various vendors.” (Board Report PR22).

There are other expensive items as well.

The Board of Education never discusses these matters. After public participation, the Board recesses into "Executive Session," returning for a quickie vote on all matters submitted by the Chief Executive Officer and other officers. Generally, the votes take less than 15 minutes, often resulting in the Board spending a half billion dollars without one word of discussion on the specific spendings.

Every six months, the Board of Education also votes to keep the minutes of its executive sessions secret. The Board has done most of its business in secret since Mayor Daley took over the school system in 1995. The motion to maintain the secrecy of the Executive Sessions has been approved by the Board regularly, most recently in July.

Not one word from any of the Board's Executive Sessions has been placed on the public record since July 1, 1995, when Mayor Daley appointed his former Budget Director Paul Vallas the first "Chief Executive Officer" or CPS and made his former Chief of Staff Gery Chico the first "President of the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees." Every discussion since 1995 is still secret. 



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